Hackbright graduate and Implementation Engineer at Forethought, Mehayla, shares how an unexpected post-grad situation led her to learn to code, enroll in coding bootcamp, and start a new career.
Prior to Hackbright, I was honestly floundering in my post-grad life. I graduated in May of 2020 from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.S. in Society and the Environment, a mountain of debt, and luckily a position I had secured, orrrr so I thought. The rule of first in, first out is especially true when you haven’t even technically had your first day, there is a global disease being spread, and the world is undergoing collective isolation. Simply put, that company unfortunately could not follow through on my employment. I was obviously not alone as thousands like me found themselves in a very similar position. However, I kept my head up and continued to apply for positions. One year, two jobs in retail, 500+ applications later, and I had been offered only 3 interviews and 1 full-time unpaid internship which I was not in the financial position to take.
At this point, I was weary and discouraged. Like many others, I searched for hobbies and outlets that I could do safely from home while COVID raged on like a frat house during syllabus week. My minimal exposure to coding in college, my friends already working in Silicon Valley, and my sometimes irritating insatiable curiosity brought me to the world of self-teaching coding online. I learned different types of regression in R on youtube with stat quest, I took coding courses with Linkedin Learning, and I went back to old projects from college. I loved how coding was just problem-solving and how it required a combination of logic and creativity. I wanted to learn more because I knew this could be a career I would enjoy, that would bring me stability, and I could gain many technical skills that I could one day and bring me back to my environmental work.
I did a lot of research comparing different coding bootcamps. The best, the most minimal, the ones that seemed like scams, and the ones that had prices that hurt my soul. In the end though, it was my roommate who told me a lot of women at her company had graduated from Hackbright. The fact that they had graduated and were currently in the industry I found very reassuring. She put me in touch with them and I got to ask them about their real, unfiltered experience throughout the bootcamp and the support they had afterward during their job search. There was an overwhelming amount of positive things these women had to say about the Hackbright program, staff, and support. They had very reasonable financial programs, scholarships, and more to help pay for the program. They even had their exact curriculum broken down and openly available on their website making it so much easier to compare it to other programs. Plus they had an entire career staff that educated students throughout the program and supported them afterward in the job searching process. I was sold.
Hackbright was hard. There is no sugar coating that. For me, it was a rough transition going from part-time retail work and a vigorous workout routine to mostly sitting and working on a screen for most of the day for 3 months. On top of daily homework, weekly assessments, and the stress of knowing you will need to know all of this to get a job later. That being said, the students and staff do an amazing amount of work to make it easier. Some of the things were built into the full-time program such as asking for student feedback after every lesson, encouraging us to ask questions about anything and everything, creating an active and thriving online space on discord, assigning a mentor you get to meet with 1 on 1 weekly, putting us in smaller group houses so that these amazing can support each other, and having a weekly check-in and social hour every Friday with the entire cohort. They even gave me extra help on concepts I struggled with more. On top of all of that, they paired us with volunteer mentors currently working in the field!
After graduating, I hit the ground running knowing that I didn’t have the luxury of time or savings to dilly dally. I got another part-time job in retail, signed up for every job alert possible, and became an avid Linkedin user with all of the advice that the Hackbright career team gave us. This time around doing a job hunt I was overwhelmed by the number of interviews I was getting! It was wonderful! Two months after I had a recruiter email me about a position at a company I had never even heard of called Forethought. They had found my email through Linkedin and reached out because they thought my skills greatly aligned with an Implementation Engineer position they were hiring for. I had 3 interviews over the course of 4 weeks. One was a 15-minute call with a recruiter to assess a fit for the position, the second was a live technical interview with one of their senior Implementation Engineers, and the third was for cultural fit. By the new year, I had a new job! So far, I love it!
As for advice for other people thinking of taking this route that are not in the majority demographic of tech companies this paragraph is for you. I say f*** going into an interview forcing yourself to think like someone from the major demographics of the tech world. Someone who identifies in these major demographics would never have the life experience you do and the unique perspective that comes with that.
What I learned in shifting this mindset was self-value. I took an inventory of every way I am unique, and I learned how to show people why that is valuable. This approach of looking at what you are made of rather than what you lack is significantly better for your mental health and starts to curb the imposter syndrome that can hit later on. And YES! It starts with the mindset you have when making the resume and cover letter. I also think having a growth mindset is pretty important. It will allow you to see opportunities to learn and grow. You don’t meet all the qualifications for a job? Apply anyway! That leaves you room to grow in a role. Don’t know something? Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I just started reaching out to people and so many were willing to talk to me and tell me what they do. I’ll end with this: be brave, be bold, and most importantly be you!
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